Editor's Report

The Double Standard


Anne M. Buckley, the retired editor in chief of Catholic New York, died April 23. In tribute to her, we are reprinting several of her Editor's Report columns.

Last weekend Catholics at Mass in 413 parishes heard a pastoral letter from the Archbishop of New York. "As you cast your ballot, I prayerfully urge you to take a stand worthy of the Community of Faith of which you are a member," Archbishop Egan wrote.

Here was a religious leader reminding his flock of "our commitment to fundamental rights for the unborn, those advanced in age, the sick and the needy," and reminding his people that in two weeks they'd have the opportunity to choose leaders who share their commitment.

He named no candidates, referred to no platforms. But the letter, and his homily at the Sunday Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, pushed buttons for the media. The perennial critics were trotted out, and the old Church-meddling-in-politics accusations were applied.

Of course, the hot button was the mention of the unborn. "Egan edict spurs anger," was the Daily News headline. The pastoral letter from a religious leader had become an edict, as though it were an order from some despot accompanied by severe sanctions. I know the words "pastoral letter" would not fit in the headline space, but plea would have served. The writer used it in the story.

"Abortion activists reacted swiftly and strongly to Archbishop Egan's public plea for Catholics to vote for anti-abortion candidates on Election Day," we were told.

One reaction, from a Planned Parenthood of New York City spokeswoman, was that the archbishop's statement "pits women between their faith and their real needs and real lives." As though faith had nothing to do with one's needs, indeed with one's life. As though a religious leader is not to be looked to for guidance in living one's life, in handling one's needs. That kind of reasoning propels the old objection that we heard again this week in random comments sought by the press: A thing like an abortion is none of a religious leader's business.

The polls, we were also told, indicate that no Catholics would listen to such urging by an archbishop.

Well, in the cathedral filled with 2,000 people on Sunday there was sturdy applause when the archbishop's letter was read. And there was a great deal of comment around the archdiocese that it was a welcome statement, something people were waiting for. You sensed they'd be passing the message on.

The huge irony in the whole thing, though, is the complaint voiced by people in TV and radio interviews about the Church meddling in politics. One never hears such complaints when candidates are endorsed by name and party by religious leaders of other faiths. They do it in their houses of worship, during services. Candidates are invited to those houses of worship and given pulpit time. No complaints in the media.

Yet, when an archbishop states Church teaching, as he was ordained to do, in his own pulpit, the critics crying interference surface quickly.

It gives real meaning to the term double standard.

The leaders of our Church have repeatedly stated their position. Last year the U.S. bishops issued a major document in which they explained, "As bishops, we do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc, nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We hope that voters will examine the positions of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy and performance."

It's a shame that doesn't sink in as far as the media are concerned. It would, as a matter of fact, be worthy of imitation by religious leaders of all faiths. But it's only the Catholic leaders who are accused of meddling in politics.